Sunday, November 09, 2008

Save the environment .... compost your kitchen waste!

My 'compost cake' showing rotted and half rotted compost

Believe it or not but part of the fight against Global warming is home composting. We throw away an amazing amount of uncooked food waste in our kitchens which when put into landfill tips releases harmful greenhouse gasses as it tries to decompose buried under tonnes of rubbish. The answer is to save it and put it into a home composter to prevent that and also to provide beautifully rich compost to either pot up plants with or enrich flower/veg beds.

The secret to successful composting is to make sure that you have a good mix of different types of waste. Things fall into different groups ...

BROWNS ... Woody garden cuttings twigs and sawdust, cardboard, egg boxes, toilet rolls, newspaper, shredded paper.

GREENS ... Old flowers and bedding plants, uncooked kitchen scraps, peelings, t-bags, grass cuttings, annual weeds.

NEVER PUT IN ... cooked food, meat, perennial weeds with roots, dairy products, diseased plants, cat/dog muck.

The way to compost well is to make sure you have an ample mix of the above ingredients, keep it damp and just keep feeding the bin.

It takes about 9-12 months for the ingredients to rot down properly. I find that the best way to access the usable compost is to remove the bin by lifting it up and revealing the bin contents as a 'compost cake', you will find that the usable stuff is in the bottom 1/2 section and as you move up the layers become less rotted. I did this the other afternoon with the 2 bins at home, I took the top layers off and put them back into the bin to carry on rotting and then I sieved the usable stuff to produce the most fantastic compost for FREE!!!! About 6 big plastic sacks full! Go on, do your bit for the environment AND your garden!

Compost cake (courtesy of wrap website)

Monday, November 03, 2008

All is well

Well, after having not been up to the plot for weeks due to the weather/vandalism/lack of oomph and stuff, we finally got there to do a bit of tidying up. What with the vandalism and other issues it has been difficult to feel like going and sorting things out but once we got there and got going it reminded us both just how therapeutic it can be.
The weather has now taken a big turn for the worse and we've had several frosts now which has knocked back all tender plants, it is amazing how one day it can be all green and lush with things still in flower and then the next day it's all brown mush. The next couple of pics were taken a few days before the frosts arrived so we still have chrysanthemums, marigolds and sunflowers in flower.

Calabrese in the foreground with nasturtiums and the remainder of the borlotti beans drying on the canes behind

'D' mowing the grass on plot 2 where all the Chrysanths and Sunflowers are

Rocket (gone to seed) producing the most beautiful flowers

The plot is still producing masses of produce, Parsnips, courgette (marrow sized!), Curly Kale, Cabbage, Calabrese, Summer sprouting broccoli, Carrots, Swede, Squash and pumpkins. I actually like autumn and winter crops a bit more than spring ones I think, nothing can beat oven roasted root veg with a beef casserole and dumplings! The parsnips really have been amazing this year, I chitted the seeds at the beginning of the year (see here) and can only think that is why they germinated so well and have produced such HUGE sized roots. Sadly the carrots haven't been too great due to slug and carrot fly damage. The fly damage has been really bad this year and I am going to have to put up some sort of barrier next year to prevent it. Apparently they can only fly to 30 cm or so height so if you put a barrier of fleece around the outside of the bed at that height they won't get to them, sounds a bit far fetched but maybe worth having a go.

We also harvested the last of the Borlotti beans which I'm drying off to store so that they can be used in stews and soups later on. 'D' surprised me with an early birthday present before we went up to the plot, a pair of Felco secateurs which I had been after since I saw them at Chelsea flower show. They're not cheap and boy can you tell when you use them, they actually work well and cut things properly unlike the £10 ones we normally make do with and they should last a lifetime! The model is number 7 which has a rotating handle to eliminate stress on the hands when using them, the handle swiveling as you squeeze them together feels odd at first but it really does make them feel so easy to use. I can't believe I'm getting excited about secateurs ... I think I'm getting old!!!!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

What a washout!

I have now officially given up on summer!! Why can't we have a proper summer!!?

I haven't put an update on here for a while as I've been mad busy with starting a new job, I've gone into lecturing which is complete change from standing up cutting hair all day and means as I learn the new ropes I haven't had as much time to update the blog ... sorry!!

The onions dried nicely in the plastic greenhouses and I have trawled dozens of websites for plans and tips on how to tie them into strings. I feel really happy with the end result and I've hung them from the beams in the garden room next to the kitchen.

When I planted the seed potatoes I put loads of shredded paper, manure and rotted compost into the bottom of the trenches to help conserve moisture and give some food etc for the developing tubers. What I never expected was a gift wrapped spud to appear. Amongst the shredded paper I put in lots of xmas wrapping paper and obviously amongst it I accidentally put in some of the ribbon that the parcels had been decorated with. When I dug up some of the potatoes last week this one, perfectly wrapped with ribbon, came out. It had grown through the ribbon so it looks like I have actually tied ribbon around it!

On a sad note I received a phone call from our plot neighbour to tell me that the plots had been vandalised, I went up yesterday to have a look for myself.

Our shed has had the front kicked in to gain access and loads of stuff taken out and thrown around the plot. The pics below show the damage, the metal tin area on the right is the door still securely locked, the smashed in bit to the left was the front wall of the shed.They also smashed the brassica cage and tore all of it's netting (the pic doesn't show the damage properly) And all of this was done by children who were apparently about 8 or 9 years old!!! One of the plot holders came in when it was happening and apprehended them. I'm so shocked that this amount of damage can be done by such young children! But the people that really should hold there heads in shame are Gloucester city council, we have been on this site for nearly 2 years now and we have had constant reassurance that the site would be made more secure. We were told at the beginning of the year that £1000 was available to do works and we all agreed that a new gate with locks would help the site. Not only have we not had that but the lock on the current gate went walk abouts about 2 months ago and despite them saying it would be replaced the council and contractors have done nothing ... so now we suffer.

They have also promised since we arrived that the trackways onto the plot ,that look as if they are breaking health and safety rules, would be dealt with. The next picture shows what the track looks like now. It has rained a lot but this happens after the slightest downpour, as you can see by the mud on the car we are constantly getting stuck in the track and often risk damaging cars and other people. The cul de sac we drive through as we come and go is also getting covered in mud and debris as we come and go, small kids beware!!! Sorry for the rant on here but it has got to the point of being ridiculous now despite an allotment officer having been appointed earlier in the year. A plot gives lots of pleasure and I'm not too down about things but the constant lack of sun and too much rain plus this damage and lack of support from Gloucester City Council has left us all feeling low!! Next update will be positive, I promise!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Summer progress

Things are moving on quite nicely at the plot, I spent about 4 hours there today mowing and pottering about.
The beans are producing MASSES, I planted half the amount of runner beans this year and we still seem to be inundated with them. The french beans are also going mad but I prefer them anyway so I'm happy to have lots of those and please don't anyone mention courgettes!
I transplanted the different brassicas into the bed that the broad beans had been in and covered them with the cage. The ones you can see in the picture are Calabrese, Wok broc (summer sprouting stir fry broccoli) and Romanesco.

I decided to harvest one bed of onions as they had all had foliage die back and looked ready. They aren't the biggest onions you'll ever see but they will keep us going for a while. I have stacked them inside one of the plastic greenhouses at home to finish drying off.

One of the things we were keen to do this year was to grow our own flowers for cutting. We always spend loads of money buying flowers for the house or to take when going to friends that we really wanted to give this a go.
'D' planted loads of flowering plants on plot 2, the pics below show the sunflower bed, sweetpea tripod with cosmos and in the foreground you can just see the chrysanthemums starting to bloom. As plot no.2 has been work in progress this year we only have a small selection of flowers but still it provides us with enough for the house. Next year will be even better as we will have finished digging the new beds and borders.

The sunflowers have been fantastic, we've got several different varieties but I think the 'Velvet Queen' has got to be our favourite and mingled with the rust coloured chrysanths they look amazing!

Monday, July 21, 2008

I am still alive!

I wish I could say that due to the endless hours of sunshine we have spent hours at the allotment which has prevented me from posting on the blog, sadly we haven't had any sun at all!! We seem to have been really busy with stuff, we were expecting a royal visit from my father which sent us into a flurry of activity sprucing up the house and garden (so much so our neighbours thought we were preparing to sell and move!!) anyway he didn't manage his visit due to family problems, maybe another time (He lives in Sheffield and hasn't seen this house hence my mild panic!)

The plot has been turning out some fab produce, I'm such a sad git but I was so impressed by all that we got one night that I had to set up my own little harvest festival type display to show how much we got in one sessions picking!

The new pots have been quite good, not a huge amount but we've done much better than last year. I reckon the best were 'Belle de fontenay' and 'Winston' but I didn't really rate much the 'international Kidney' (Or Jersey Royal)

I've now dug up the remainder of the new potatoes so that the bed was available for the leeks that I had been growing on at home in tiny pots. This is an idea that Monty Don had on Gardener's World before he left. Three to five leeks are sown in small pots and grown on and then planted out as they are when the time comes, normally you dibber a hole for each individual leek but Monty reckoned if you just transplanted each pot as it is then you will get smaller more baby type leek. I've already got leeks planted at the plot in the traditional way so I thought this was worth a try, I'll keep you posted!

I also got rid of the Broad Bean plants as they had stopped producing and I have a nursery bed full of brassicas waiting for a more permanent home. Brassicas LOVE to follow on after legumes in the rotational plan as Legumes enrich the soil with nitrogen which will feed the brassicas well hopefully producing healthy and huge greens! I haven't transplanted them yet but I have Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Wok Broc (a summer sprouting Broccoli ideal for stir frying) Calabrese (what most people think of as broccoli) , Romanesco (weird spirally type cauliflower) and good old Savoy cabbage. How's that for your five a day!!!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Reclaimed pergola

I've been wanting to do this for ages and we finally managed it. Our neighbour at home gave us a load of old wood for use on the allotment and we have constructed a pergola to sit under and admire all our hard work. When I say 'we' built it I of course mean 'D' built it with good advice and foreman skills from me!!!

I have said this before, and sometimes I sound like a broken record, but I do love allotment architecture that is made from old reclaimed and recycled materials, it is supposed to look a bit wonky and home-made, to me that is part of the charm and apart from a handful of nails it didn't cost a penny.

I still need to tidy up bits around it but we have already started the beds alongside it, on the left hand side is a 'Golden Hop' (Humulus lupulus Aureus) which is a prolific climber. On the right hand side I have planted a climbing rose that I produced from a cutting at home. It's a rose called Veilchenblau which I found rambling through our hedge at home when we first moved in , I have tweeked it out and trained it over an arch and I have taken this cutting from it. It produces the most beautiful small violet blue roses and it really is a beautiful rose. The other plants are Origano, Lavender and a couple of 'Gentle Hermione' rose cuttings.

The other rose cutting of 'Gentle Hermione' that I put up at the plot last year is blooming fantastically at the moment, much better than the parent plant that it came from at home.
I love taking rose cuttings because of all the plants I feel it is the one that feels like you are getting a lot for free by creating a new plant. They are so easy to do and I have done ll of mine by taking a stem approx. 18" long and literally just pushing it into a pot of compost and watering in. I don't use hormone powder or any other fancy tricks but I do quite a few so you cover for failures.

Our broad beans have been great this year, we've had masses and we've had some really imaginative meals using them like Brod bean pesto and pasta and broad bean,lemon and feta linguine (sublime!) They are tarting to slow down a bit now but still loads to go and if anyone is wondering about double podding then the answer is yes, do it, it does make a big difference to the taste.

The next crop to come through for us I think will be the new potatoes which I'm disappointed with so far as everyone else seems to have been having theirs for weeks. I think I plant them incorrectly to be honest. I put them into trenches and the put the soil back over them in a ridge so they were earthed up from day 1 and I haven't really earthed them up since. So in effect I have planted them too deep so they have taken longer to grow and flower. Oh well, you learn something new every day I suppose!

The days are drawing out more and more as we head to the peak of the hill tomorrow, I wish this time of year would last for ever.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Allotments really do EAT time!

When I first thought about taking on an allotment I really didn't appreciate how much time it takes. Now obviously it is relative to the amount of space you have and how low or high maintenance your plot is. I don't say this to put off anyone from taking on a plot but it really is (I think) one of the factors that make people give up plots so quickly. Our plot has large areas of grass, the paths and the space where we park the car are grass and this take a lot of my time in mowing but I do like the look of the grass but I must admit it is tempting to do away with some of it.
On the flip side of that though is the fact that when I'm at the plot on my own I disappear into a place of my own. Our allotment site is tucked away behind housing estates and next to a railway line which doesn't sound idylic but it is sufficently private enough that it's like a hidden oasis.

One of the jobs I did in my 5 hour marathon session on Monday was putting in the leeks, a job that I find really nice to do. For leek planting virgins it couldn't be easier, you make a hole with a dibber, drop in a leek and pour in some water to settle it and that's it, no filling in with soil or anything else, it really must be the easiest veg ever to plant.
Leeks in holes, Gladioli in background
The parsnips that I chitted in the tupperware tub are doing really well, I spent ages hand weeding the bed as last year we fell behind with weeding and I really do want to keep things tidy. I also thinned the carrots which is why they look a bit bedraggled in the picture!!!
Parsnips and Carrots

Generally things are looking great and we've just had our first crop of broad beans which were fab. Loads more to go in but it's filling up nicely!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Catch up

I think it shows that at this time of year we're all just so busy at the allotment that we don't have time to update our blogs, I subscribe to several and there has been a noticeable slowing down of postings as the spring leaps forward. It's the end of the month, bank holiday Monday and this is my first post since last bank hol at the beginning of May.
We've been up at the plot loads and things are looking great (apart from the endless weeds!) Watering duties have increased and loads more plants have gone in. D has been putting in lots of ornamental stuff on plot 2 and I've finally got the climbing beans in (Borlotti, French and runners) put loads more brassicas in under the cage and also put a few of the army of courgettes in.

A lot of our time has been taken up with other things including going to 2 top RHS flower shows... Malvern and Chelsea.

As I mentioned in my last post I volunteered to help run a stand at the Malvern Spring Garden show. I joined the "Gloucestershire Organic Gardening Group" (GOGG ) in February. They are a great group which holds regular monthly meetings and organise loads of different events including the potato weekend that I mentioned in a previous post on here. As well as helping to man the stand, which was great fun, I also helped to set it up on the Wednesday evening with another member of the group, it was a really fantastic experience because when I arrived the BBC were filming right in front of our marquee and we saw loads of famous horticultural people inc. Carol Klein, Joe Swift, Rachael De Thame, Jekka McVicar etc. After we had set up our stand we were able to walk around the showground and see all the exhibits and show gardens. As most people had finished setting up the place was really empty and it was if we had been given VIP preview tickets, we were even present when the RHS judges presented the medals to the show gardens!

Sue Jollans' (Gloucestershire designer) garden won Gold and 'Best in Show' at Malvern

I also decided that I wanted to go to the Chelsea flower show this year, I always love watching it on TV and always regret not going. We stayed with a great friend in London and went to the show on Friday afternoon. The weather was beautiful and we had a fab time, we even managed to witness Alan Titchmarsh filming a piece for the later BBC programme.

Alan Titchmarsh preparing for filming at Chelsea

The show gardens are what Chelsea is most famous for and I have to say they really are amazing to see, it's hard to believe that they haven't been there for years. My favourite was Andy Sturgeons Cancer Research Garden which won a very deserved gold medal.

Andy Sturgeon's Cancer Research garden Gold winner

As I finish writing this it is once again tipping it down, so much for bank holidays! I've just received a Golden Hop through the post from 'Crocus' and I'm dying to get to the plot to plant it let alone all the other plants that are preventing us from using our patio! Until next time ...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bank Holiday weekend

Things have been hotting up with sowing seeds, all the frost tender seeds have now been sown (indoors) Courgette, pumpkin, squash, (several dif varieties of each) Borlotti bean, french bean and runner bean. We really need to buy another heated propagator as we're battling to get things into it, germinated and out so the next thing can go in! Seedlings and young plants have taken over the windowsills, the lower patio and table and all 3 of our small greenhouses.We managed to get up to the plot on Bank Holiday Monday, the weather was ok for a while but eventually rained us off around 4pm. We did however manage to build one of the brassica cages which I've been desperate to do. The idea is that it fits exactly over one of the beds and provides netting protection from pests but is easy to move off to get in and weed or harvest produce. We haven't finished stapling the netting to it yet, a quick hours job in the week maybe.
New brassica cage

The site was really busy with at least 7 plots being worked (that's busy for our site!) Sisters Heather and Hazel who are new to the site this year have thrown themselves into their plot with huge gusto and are slowly starting to put the rest of us to shame, today was no exception with the arrival of their latest addition 'Roger the Scarecrow' !

Hazel, Roger and Heather

Through out this last week I've been frantically sowing different seeds including starting the seed trial that I have been included in. I was chuffed to bits to be included in the 'Gardener's World Seed Trial 2008'. I'm really not sure how I did get involved in it but I received an official looking BBC package with the 2 varieties of toms that I will be trialling and the questionnaires to follow the progress. Exciting stuff! God I hope they grow ok!

Gardeners World Seed Trial 2008

I owe a rather belated thank you to Paul and Melanie at 'GROWING OUR OWN' for awarding me with an award of excellence for this blog, thank you, thank you, thank you!! It's really nice that people enjoy your blog, I now have to pass on this award to another blog and after much deliberation I have decided to award it to a recently discovered blog 'PLOT 61a'. Tim is developing a beautifully tended plot and enjoying the wildlife in the process, it's a great blog.

I have a busy week ahead of me, I've volunteered to help in the organic marquee at the RHS Malvern Spring Gardening Show. This will involve helping to set up the stand on Wednesday night and then to man the stand on Sunday (with others) and then help take it down later. I will tell more after the event. I need lots of strength this week!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rain, rain go away!

Am I the only one wishing the weather would get better! When it's nice it's great but I keep having to run for cover when we get a sudden downpour. Last year at this time we were still in the process of creating the plot from the wasteland that we inherited, we are much further on in the season compared with then but it always feels like I'm chasing my own tail trying to get on with sowing seeds and digging new beds on plot 2. Don't get me wrong, I am loving it (mostly!) and the tantrums I had every time we tried to dig out a 20 foot long weed root are now much, much less (much to D's relief!).

I've had a few MARATHON session up at the plot, last Monday I spent 7 hours digging and sorting things out and it was great. Man's best friend was with me and loved it too (I think), he tends to warn anyone who gets too close to the plot that it is his domain but if they did get too close he'd only lick them to death! He spent most of his time on the parcel shelf of the open boot in the car lapping up the spring sunshine

Tuesday and Wednesday saw me up at the plot after work for a couple of hours each time, I spent an hour or so putting up the 2 rows of bean canes ready for our bumper crops of runner, French and Borlotti beans. I'm not going to grow as many runners this year, we had SO many last year that I couldn't give them away quick enough and there is only so much runner bean chutney you can make (mind you it's bloomin lovely stuff).

On plot 2 I managed to get in the rest of the onion sets in, we now have 2 beds containing a mixture of Stuttgarter (120 sets) Red Karmen (54 sets) and Sturon (64 sets) giving us a grand total of 238 onions in total, a couple of weeks ago Monty Don said on 'Gardener's World' that onions were expected to be in short supply this year pushing the price up so make sure you plant loads, I think I've gone mad but we do use a lot of onion at home.

I've got loads of jobs to get on with, I'm about to build a portable brassica cage from wooden battens and netting which will cover an entire bed, it should make it a lot easier to weed the beds as it will be easy to lift on and off as opposed to the set up we have now where we stake netting into the ground all around the bed. The pricking out and sowing season is threatening to taking over most of our house at the moment, our window sills are completely covered in young plants, I could do with early retirement to cope with this growing your own malarkey!!!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring has sprung ...

April is living up to it's reputation as being a wet month, one minute we have a beautiful clear blue sky then 5 minutes later it's bloody pouring down!!

I've just had the allotment mower serviced and last weekend we managed to take it to the plot on Sunday afternoon, as we left the house the sky became darker and darker, as I started the mower it proceeded to snow like mad, I carried on mowing looking like a walking snowman, 10 minutes later we had blazing sunshine again ... British weather!

On Monday I went up to the plot in the afternoon and ended up spending approx. 4 hours there. It was so peaceful and apart from one other person arriving for about an hour I had the entire site to myself.I have been trying out chitting parsnip seeds prior to sowing them, this process is very simple and hopefully eliminates the renowned poor germination rate of parsnips. An empty tupperware type container is used with a wet paper towel in the bottom, the seed are sprinkled onto the paper and the lid put on, this is then left in a warm place (airing cupboard, on top of radiator etc.) for the seeds to sprout, it takes about 5 days to a week. Once this has happened you sow the seed into a seed drill using a pair of tweezers to gently transfer them. I station sowed 3 seeds every 6-9", when they show on the surface they can be thinned out to leave the best one.It sounds quite fiddly but it really isn't and hopefully it means that you are guaranteed a perfect row of parsnips. I also put in a row of unchitted parsnip seed so it will be interesting to see if there is much difference between them. (Varieties, Tender and true and white gem)

Chitting Parsnip seed ... 'White Gem'

One of the things I love about allotments is the make do and mend mentality, my shed is a prime example of that, it looks as if it has had another layer added every 10 years for the last 40 years and it leans slightly to one side, it's so ramshackle looking that when D's Mum and Dad were with us his Mum thought it was just a pile of old wood and metal waiting to be used for something, she didn't realise that it was a shed!! For ages I've been wanting to make the inside look a little better and I decided to staple all the old seed packets to the wall to almost wallpaper it, there are some lovely designs on the packets and it also becomes a visual reminder of what you have planted in previous seasons and years.

Seed packet wallpaper (and brewing tea!)

The last couple of jobs were to sow some carrots 1 row each of Early Nantes 2, Fly away and Amsterdam forcing and then dig over one of the beds on the new plot to put onions in.